Selon un chercheur du CIA, entre 35% et 90% de tous renseignements fournis au gouvernement fédéral par les services spécialisés viennent des sources publiques comme l’internet. Ainsi, on peut espérer que ces services vont visiter plus regulièrement la site www.kremlin.ru et livrer au chef Barack Obama des meilleurs conseils pour gérer relations avec la Russie qu’il a reçu jusqu’à maintenant des octogénaires dans son entourage.
by Gilbert Doctorow, Ph.D.
Over the past month, I published several very serious articles on this blog which surely must have been heavy going for many readers. I thank you for your loyalty and forbearance. In the brief essay which follows, I intend to lighten the tone and to switch from questions of war and peace, NATO and European security architecture to a subject closer to the hearts of visitors to a newspaper portal like www.lalibre.be, namely the internet genre itself. Since this blog focuses on Russian affairs, what I have in mind is the use of the internet as a tool of public information and soft power by the Russian political leadership.
President of the Russian Federation Dmitry Medvedev strongly supports the e-government program in his country as a democratizing force and has openly criticized delays in its full and speedy implementation. Born in 1965, the youthful Mr Medvedev is widely known as a fellow who is ‘with it,’ who spends a fair amount of time on line, and uses the internet and personal blogs as a preferred means of communication.
On September 1, one week ahead of Barack Obama’s controversial address to American school children via the internet, Medvedev delivered his own address to Russian school children on the occasion of the start of the academic year using the newly launched internet resource www.youtube.com/kremlin. That URL now also carries full and uncut video files of the President’s speech to the 64th Session of the UN General Assembly on September 24th (a modest 5,248 views so far) as well as video coverage of several other of his recent speeches and public appearances.
The creation of a smart looking presence on youtube.com represents an attempt to make still more accessible to computer savvy young people content which is otherwise on the more formal government site www.kremlin.ru. And yet it would be misleading to suggest that the government site is stodgy or old-fashioned just because it is official. In fact, kremlin.ru is a tribute to the new user-friendly spirit of Medvedev’s administration.
Beginning in the year 2000, I spent two years working as a marketing consultant to a Russian software development company based in St Petersburg which at the time was considered medium-sized and numbered more than 100 programmers. This experience left me greatly impressed by the creativity and world-class competencies of those young Russians, many of whom graduated from specialized courses in local colleges which each year produced winners in the worldwide competitions for programmers hosted by Microsoft and other leading multinationals. I see the results of this creativity occasionally on Russian commercial sites, such as Yandex.ru, where the search engine seems to be much more effective than on msn.com, notwithstanding the vast gap in resources for development, even if it is less powerful than yahoo or google. Now it is also exciting to see this kind of talent applied in the engineering and design of Mr Medvedev’s presidential site, www.kremlin.ru
That site is bilingual and I imagine that readers of La Libre Belgique are more likely than not to access its English rather than Russian variant. The difference between the two is that the Russian version features video files whereas the English pages are only text documents, which give a much more static feel to the site. Nonetheless, the underlying source material is the words of the President and these words are delivered in a conversational, relaxed manner that is anything but stuffy or opaque, as once were traditional Soviet, later Russian communications.
The translations from the original Russian into English are easy to read even if the quality is variable. It is clear that the translators are native Russian speakers and while they are excellent linguists there is the occasional problem with the use of articles and minor mistakes of word usage that are unavoidable. It is curious to note that the English spelling applied is mostly (but not always consistently) U.K., although the style of the texts is mid-Atlantic, that is to say not clearly British or American.
The Russian screen offers downloadable video and over the past couple of days I watched the full coverage of Mr. Medvedev’s appearance before the UN General Assembly in New York,s his meeting with students at the University of Pittsburgh on the day the G20 session opened and the full press conference on G20 summit results. These primary sources without the intermediation of journalists and editorial posturing are absolutely fascinating for what they tell you about Medvedev, the man, about Russian foreign policy and about the hierarchy of state power within Russia.
In an article on Open Sources versus secret intelligence published in a CIA journal in 2004, Stephen C. Mercado estimated that analysis of internet, television and print media sources accounts for between 35% and 95% of the intelligence used by the American government while costing less than 1% of the budgetary allocation to the intelligence services¹. I can heartily recommend to the folks in Langley, Virginia to spend a bit more time watching kremlin.ru and less time sending spies to follow anti-government campaigners if they want to produce useful material for the White House as it resets relations with Russia.
The meeting with students at the University of Pittsburgh presents us with a smiling, relaxed and eminently likable Dmitry Medvedev who can respond with obvious warmth and sincerity to student questions about his personal values as well as to affairs of state. Without condescension he adapts his responses to his audience, flattering them with the thought that the happiest time of his own life was at their age, as a university student. He projects modesty and readiness to serve in whatever capacity fate decides, insisting that pure ambition is self-consuming and unlikely to achieve its objective. And he calls attention to his varied career, much of it spent as a university lecturer before he moved up into government administration. He allows himself the aside that when he was a law student he had read the Harvard Law Review without knowing its editor was Barack Obama and now regrets he didn’t give it more attention back then. These are all the words of a man who knows his own worth and can speak his mind.
Medvedev’s speech at the United Nations General Assembly also contained references to shared values based on morality, religion, custom and traditions. Here he was responding indirectly to the allegation of a ‘values gap’ which American neoconservatives called out over the past several years to disqualify Russia being treated equally or even fairly.
In terms of delivery, this speech was remarkable for the attentiveness it showed to the dynamics of the event and the ability of Medvedev to adapt his text at the last moment to respond to the remarks of others and to new opportunities to advance the party line. In particular, I think of his reference to Barack Obama’s address earlier in the day at the same venue abjuring unilateralism and confirming that no one country can or should dominate others.
Meanwhile, Medevedev stayed close to the script to drive home the main principles of his country’s foreign policy, namely that no country may be allowed to establish its own security at the expense of others; that security is indivisible; and that multilateralism must be encouraged at the regional level and at the global level.
What we have in these various appearances featured on the Kremlin website is a vivid demonstration that Dmitry Medvedev is the lead public relations man of the Russian Federation. Though constantly on the move both at home and abroad, he is always at ease, rested and personable. It might be argued that Russia has never before had so likable and gentlemanly a head of state.
One look at recent video footage of Vladimir Putin’s always tired and stressed face these days makes it immediately clear who today is ‘pulling the plough,’ as the Prime Minister himself is wont to say.
In an article for publication within the coming week, I intend to examine the more complex personality of Vladimir Putin through the prism of his speech September 2nd in Gdansk to mark the 70th anniversary of the start of WWII.
© Gilbert Doctorow 2009-2010
¹ Stephen C. Mercado, « Reexamining the Distinction Between Open Information and Secrets », Studies in Intelligence, Vol. 49, No. 2, 2005. Cited in Raphaël Ramos, “Analysis 28/09/2007. Sixty years after its creation, the CIA should once again give priority to strategic intelligence.”
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G. Doctorow is an occasional guest lecturer at St. Petersburg State University. His latest book Stepping Out of Line: Collected (Nonconformist) Essays on Russian-American Relations, 2008-12 is scheduled for publication in April 2013 and will be available from Amazon in paperback and e-book editions.